TikTok for museums – an introduction

TikTok (once known as Music.Ly) is a video-sharing focussed social networking service that became available worldwide in 2018. It was the most downloaded app of 2020 and, at the time of writing, it is the third most used social media platform in the world.

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How the platform works | Content on TikTok – a quick guide | TikTok audiences | Accessibility | Top tips for using the platform | Further useful resources

How the platform works

Creating an account

When you set up a TikTok account, you’ll want to ensure that you’re setting up the right account type for your organisation from the get-go. TikTok does not have a special account type for ‘not-for-profits’ and so the best account type to go for is a ‘creator account’. The other two options are a ‘personal account’ (this means you won’t have full access to account analytics) and a ‘business account’ (this means you will have access to analytics, but won’t have full access to the library of sounds).

An image showing the anatomy of a TikTok page, as displayed on a mobile phone.

Navigating the app

TikTok’s community and video content is centred around something known as the ‘for you page’, often shortened to just ‘FYP’. This is the first page you’ll see when you open the app. The more you interact with content (such as by liking, commenting on and sharing it), the more TikTok will adapt the types of videos you see to your tastes and preferences.

Following page

This is located at the top of the page to the left of the FYP page button. This feed only displays content from those accounts that you follow.

Live feed

In the top left hand corner of the page, you’ll find the ‘live feed’. This feed only displays live content in real time.

An image of TikTok's discover page, with a look at the user interface including a number of videos uploaded or shared by users

The discover page

The ‘discover page’ is located at the bottom of the screen and can be accessed by clicking on the ‘magnifying glass’ symbol. This page displays a variety of content from across the TikTok community and also live event highlights. In this feed you’ll also find trending videos, hashtags, creators, and sponsored content.

Creating content

Creating content on TikTok is easy – simply tap the big plus button and you’ll have access to a wide variety of filters and effects. You can either film in app or upload pre-recorded or edited footage by accessing your camera roll. Make sure to check out the ‘sounds discovery page’ – this is where you’ll find the most viral and popular sounds. You can access this by filming or uploading your footage, pressing the tick in the bottom right hand corner, clicking the music icon in the bottom left hand corner, and finally, through clicking the magnifying glass in the bottom right hand corner.

Analytics and creator Tools

You can access analytics and creator tools by clicking the ‘me’ icon in the bottom right hand corner, and then tapping the three dots in the top right hand corner. There are a lot of settings to play around with in here, but the most important ones is the ‘creator tools’ section. This is where you’ll find your analytics and the settings to toggle the question box on and off. If you monetise the account, it’s where you’ll be able to see ad revenue also.

Content on TikTok – a quick guide

TikTok’s purpose and how this impacts content

Before we dive into the types of content you can create on TikTok, it’s worth noting that TikTok’s mission is to ‘spark creativity and bring joy’, and also that it was originally designed as a lip syncing and dancing app. Whilst the TikTok landscape is constantly changing, that mission and those roots are strongly present throughout the content on the platform – so light-hearted, interesting and inspirational really is the order of the day.

In the case of museums especially, it’s also worth noting that TikTok tends to discourage any content that addresses ‘darker topics’, and has a very sophisticated artificial moderation system that will scan content for anything it deems ‘inappropriate’. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of interesting political and social discourse happening on the app, because there is. You just won’t be able to use words like ‘murder’, ‘kill’ or ‘terrorism’ or violate its very strict community guidelines, which, if you’re a museum that focusses on war (for example), might be an issue worth considering.

Types of content that you can create on TikTok

TikTok will allow you to create and share videos up to 3 minutes long, but the most popular videos on TikTok are normally less than 30 seconds. There are lots of ways you can create content to connect with your audience on TikTok, including:


The live feature on TikTok is perhaps more comparable to a Twitch stream than many other social media platforms, though the functionality is similar to Instagram. To go live, just press the ‘+’ button on the bottom of the screen, and swipe across to the correct functionality. Here, you’ll be given an option to add a title and topic category. You’ll also be able to see how many of your followers are currently live. If you go live, some of your followers will receive a push notification if they have them enabled. It’s highly recommended that you create a ‘live event post’ before you go live so that you can get the maximum number of followers to join. You can do this by clicking on the calendar icon in the top right hand corner of the ‘me’ page, and you can access the ‘me’ page by clicking on the person icon in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

Also note that the culture on TikTok is to donate ‘virtual gifts’ (small amounts of money) during the live stream. For now, unlike Twitch, this does not make messages more prominent, and people will normally do this with no expectation for anything in return. Note that you’ll need over a thousand subscribers to be able to use the function. You can re-watch your live content for 90 days after it is aired in settings, under the ‘content and activity’ section.

An image of the live feed, as shown displayed on a mobile device.
Challenges and trends

Whilst you absolutely shouldn’t create content that you’re not comfortable with, it’s worth noting that challenges and trends truly are at the heart of TikTok. They’re an important way to connect with the TikTok community and its subcultures and are more often than not light-hearted and humorous in nature. Trends and challenges normally have a life cycle of less than a month (sometimes even shorter) and can’t really be planned for. You’ll normally get the best results when you participate within the first week of the challenge or trend going viral. You’re likely to come across lots of trends and challenges when scrolling through TikTok, but you’ll also be able to find the most popular ones on the discover page, too. Some challenges are set by TikTok, some are set by users, but often, TikTok creates challenges by featuring videos from other users on its discover page.

An example of a challenge or trend was the #MainCharacterChallenege (popular in October 2020). The challenge was created by user @jonysios. Here’s the original video, here’s an example of someone participating in the trend, and here’s the BCLM’s version.

Stitch and duet

Stitch allows you to clip and integrate scenes from another user’s videos into your own, whilst duets allow you to record and play your own video alongside another user’s video while it plays.

You can stitch and duet videos by pressing the arrow on the bottom right hand screen of another users’ video. Not every video can be stitched or duetted – some videos are too long, and occasionally, users will turn these functions off. You can also turn these functions off when you post a video, too.

Image example of a live Q&A session on TikTok

Here’s an example of a stitch and a duet in action.

Q&A and responses

Finally, a great way to interact with your audience is to respond to comments and questions with a video. You can do this in two ways. Firstly, you can click and hold on any response or comment on your video. Secondly, you can turn the Q&A option on in settings, and respond to the questions your user submit that are specifically tagged as questions.

TikTok audiences

TikTok has a fairly young userbase

One thing that is particularly noticeable when using TikTok is that its userbase is generally quite young. Whilst TikTok requires users to be 13 to sign up to the app, many users are even younger than this. Often, TikTok is thought of as the most popular social app amongst ‘gen z’ and while (at the time of writing) this is true – as with all social media platforms, its userbase is maturing as it becomes more popular.

TikTok has its own culture and subculture

Since self-expression, community and creativity is at the heart of TikTok’s ethos and user design, it is no surprise to find that TikTok has its own ‘culture’ that is deeply interconnected with the concerns and interests of gen z. If you haven’t already, it’s worth familiarising yourself with this demographic. It’s worth noting that by virtue of the fact that TikTok’s audience is younger, it is also significantly more diverse.

Within that culture exist a number of subcultures that all closely align themselves with the interests and concerns of ‘gen z’. Ideally, you’ll want to familiarise yourself with these subcultures, as they pop up quite a lot on the app.

Examples of museums successfully using TikTok

There are lots of great examples of museums using TikTok, but here are some the most popular:

The Sacramento History Museum; Carnegie Museum of Natural History; Museo Del Prado; Palace of Versailles


You can find accessibility settings under the ‘content & activity’ section of your settings page (located on the ‘me’ page on the top right hand corner of the screen). You can also find an up-to-date list of TikTok’s current accessibility features on their website.

One way to make your videos more accessible is to ensure that captions are included. You can either do this in post-production on a pre-edited video, or in app using the text tool. Be conscious to place the captions in a place where they will be visible and not obscured by your caption or the on-screen user interface. If you’re not sure whether or not your captions will be covered, you can upload a test video privately to preview the layout, but note that the TikTok user interface will differ depending on the phone make and model. In mid-2021, TikTok rolled out a new auto-subtitling feature to UK accounts. Through the feature, you are able to toggle it on just before you post your video. However you will want to check these captions for accuracy.

Top Tips for using the platform

  • The best way to understand TikTok is to use it regularly
  • The person who creates your TikTok content should ideally be a regular TikTok user
  • Don’t just look to other museums for content inspiration, look to individual creators
  • As a general rule of thumb, do not post content that requires lots of context or historical knowledge to understand. Quick fire facts are a more accessible form of content.
  • Ask yourself: “would this be interesting to a thirteen year old?”

Further useful resources